Quality performance in refugee management???

The UK government will never accept an EU refugee quota. However, we have already seen how the public cry of horror at a drowning child can soften a political heart, and draw out a commitment to take more displaced people. This commitment includes targeting those with arguably the highest level of need, in camps closest to conflict. If our response is the most effective and efficient possible – taking into account all stakeholders – what will it look like? What IS quality performance in refugee management?

One thing we can be sure of. It will be very different to how refugees to the United Kingdom are currently considered. (http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/policy_research/research)

High performing refugee management will consider the desired outcomes of the service and seek to maximize their delivery. In much the same way that an effective employment service would seek to achieve as many employment outcomes as possible. Or an effective probation service would endeavor to reduce reoffending.

In the case of refugee management, we have to consider the outcomes for two stakeholders: the refugee and the host community. The interests of the two groups are in fact intertwined, such that it is impossible (or highly ineffective) to attempt to meet the needs of one without also addressing the needs of the other. In the employment service analogy, unless the needs of both jobseeker and employer are taken into account, there will be no job start or if there is, it simply won’t last.

For the refugees, we can define two outcomes. Firstly, that they are enabled at some point to return to their original home. Secondly, if this is not possible, that they are enabled to settle where they are hosted.

If the first of these scenarios is to be achieved, and it is to have a positive impact on both the individual and the home they are returning to, then the wellbeing of the refugee must be maintained. In fact, given their recent experiences, it may need to be significantly improved. This includes their physical, psychological and material wellbeing. They can’t, or won’t, go back if they are unwell or don’t have the means to live independently or safely. Though dislocated from their home, they need to keep up connections with that home/family. They may well need to be equipped for a post-conflict environment – again, practically, physically, emotionally. How do they deal with the trauma of return, with the people they blame for their plight, and with the labour market that they will find? What employment or enterprise will be needed to recreate their economic stability?

Maintaining or improving their wellbeing will require, in short, a response that respects them as individuals and considers their needs. This will include: access to decent, clean, safe accommodation; contact with other refugees from the same culture; the support of informed physical and mental health services. It also includes simple things like the ability to open a bank account. Given the absolute requirement to equip these people to take responsibility for their own futures, it may mean provision of training and both hard and soft skills development. Given the benefits that we know employment brings, and the debilitating impact of unemployment, it will also mean the right to work, and the support to do so.

In the second of these scenarios, the refugee is unable to return to their original home. In this case, the desired outcome must be a positive settling in their new host country. Much as above, they will need the wellbeing, and the skills, to do so. They will need to be helped to gain the language, and the cultural awareness, necessary for positive integration. They will need to understand all the strange complexities of the systems in this new society. They will also need to be able to contribute constructively to their new community – to be of positive value. In other words, they will need employment. This may mean ‘translating’ existing skills and qualifications to host country requirements

The refugee’s interests are so evidently intertwined throughout with the second stakeholder, the host community. Either their settling is a positive addition to the local economy, or it is a drag on resources and a threat to local wellbeing. There must be sufficient resources for both. There must be an infrastructure that can cope with both stakeholders’ requirements, be that schools, housing, health etc.

To date, refugee resettlement has been haphazard. Responsibility has largely been passed to local authorities, or local voluntary groups, without resources attached. No thought is given to where other refugees have been sent in the country, exacerbating isolation and alienation. Infrastructure is supposed to respond to demand, once the seams are screaming, rather than be stood up in planned anticipation. Refugees are denied the fundamental keys to their, and their hosts’ wellbeing, of training and jobs.

We can help to bring about a smooth transition for all stakeholders, and a highly profitable set of mutual outcomes, only if we have a clear plan in place. A model of who, where and when can identify available capacity. It can tell us what inputs are required. The model can be costed, and some of the payments to service providers can be tied to outcomes (e.g. employment), possibly with upfront social investment. As ever, a cheap short-term fix, without a proper ‘commercial-operational’ model, will prove costly at so many levels in the long run. The reinstatement of the Refugee Integration and Employment Service (RIES) would be a good first step.


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